Once upon a Time
Nina Van Gorkom
In January 2014, a year after my last journey, Acharn 1 Sujin and Sarah had organised
another sojourn in Thailand for our Vietnamese friends, including a girl of five years
old, and other Dhamma friends from different countries: from Canada, Australia,
from the U.S., from Japan and from Italy. In the Hague I had had an accident in the
tramway and broken my hip. I was happy to be able to make the journey after several
months of hard training with my therapist. A day trip was planned to Bangsai, near
Ayuthaya, and shortly after that we would go to Kaeng Krachan, the place where
Acharn Sujin and Khun 2 Duangduen regularly stay and then to Suanpheung in the
mountains outside Ratchbury. At the end of my stay I went to Chiengmai with my
Our stay in Thailand coincided with political unrest. Those who opposed the govern-
ment and prime minister Yingluck whose brother Thaksin was ousted, organised
demonstrations and blocked roads. However, we could make all our planned trips in-
spite of the political situation.
I received great assistance from all my friends, whenever there was a difficult high
step to be taken, or when I had to walk in a dark garden. Khun Noppadom, one of our
Thai friends, was asked to look after me. At breakfast in Kaeng Krachan he fetched
the food for me all the time and also later on in Chiengmai he saw to it that I would
not go hungry. In Suanpheung several Thai friends provided us with an abundance of
fruits and sweets whenever we had a break in between the discussions.
In Bangkok I stayed again in Hotel Peninsula where Sarah and Jonothan often stay. I
was next door to them which gave me a safe feeling. I listened four times a day to
Acharn' s radio programs in Thai and heard that one should not be impatient in the
development of understanding. One should not have expectations as to its develop-
ment since we have accumulated such an amount of ignorance. If one is discouraged
it shows that one clings to the idea of self. Understanding should be developed with
courage and cheerfulness.
Acharn asked me to write a summary of our discussions and she even suggested a ti-
tle: "Once upon a time". I am very grateful that Acharn explained with great patience
that the characteristic of seeing and visible object appearing at this moment should be
investigated. If we do not know what seeing is, only a dhamma, a conditioned reality,
we shall continue to cling to a self. Everything is dhamma and "there is no one there"
she repeated many times. We cannot hear this often enough.
1 Acharn is the Thai word for teacher. In Pali: acariya.
2 Khun is the Thai word for Mr. or Mrs.
Once upon a Time.
"Once upon a time..." Stories of the past begin with these words. We do not really
know the past. We do not even know what we did and thought yesterday from mo-
ment to moment, it is all gone. We do not know who we were in a past life, it is for-
gotten. We were happy and unhappy but all those experiences are completely gone,
never to return. Also in this life it is true that all we find so important is gone imme-
diately. This life will be the past life in the next life.
In reality the past can be as recent as one moment of citta (consciousness). What we
call mind is citta that falls away immediately. There are different types of citta and
each citta experiences an object: seeing is a citta that knows visible object and hear-
ing is another citta that knows sound. Citta arises, experiences an object and then falls
away immediately, never to return. Each citta is accompanied by mental factors, ceta-
sikas, that assist the citta in cognizing the object. The mental factor remembrance or
sanna accompanies every citta and it marks and remembers the object that is experi-
enced. That is why we recognize a chair and know that it is for sitting, or we recog-
nize a person who is in the room. Seeing only sees what is visible, it does not see
people and things. After seeing has fallen away, there can be thinking of people and
things which are remembered by sanna. In reality there is no one there.
During our discussions, Acharn repeated many times: "There is no one there". She
said: "Dhamma means: no one there. It is just a characteristic of reality that appears".
I am grateful for this reminder, because we are deluded most of the time and we be-
lieve that people exist. What we take for a person is in reality only citta (conscious-
ness), cetasika (mental factor accompanying consciousness) and rupa (physical phe-
nomena) which arise for an extremely short moment and then fall away. When we
see, we are immediately attached to seeing and visible object but before we realize it
they are completely gone. They are past already, they were present "once upon a
time". We may think of a dear person who passed away, but there is only the idea or
memory of what is gone completely. Only attachment and ignorance are left, Acharn
said. This helps us to begin to understand, at least intellectually, the disadvantage and
uselessness of clinging to persons.
We believe that we live with many people, but when we consider the different cittas
that arise one at a time and experience different objects through the senses or the
mind-door, we can understand what "living alone" means. Life is only the experience
of one object at a time such as visible object or sound. When visible object is experi-
enced, there is the world of visible object and when sound is experienced there is the
world of sound. Different worlds appear through the senses and the mind-door. They
could not appear if there were no citta which experiences them.
Sarah said that this is an encouragement to wake up from our dreams. Understanding
of the reality appearing now is the only way to lessen attachment to whatever ap-
pears. She also said that we usually live in "once upon a time" stories, but, that just
for a moment now, there can be truly living alone with the world that appears. When
we appreciate this, we begin to have a sense of urgency, with understanding.
It takes an extremely long time before the truth can be realized. It is realized by
panna, a mental factor that is understanding. This is developed stage by stage, during
countless lives. Intellectual understanding of the Buddha's teachings is a foundation
for the development of direct understanding. But if we wish for direct understanding
we are on the wrong Path. There is clinging instead of understanding. Ignorance and
clinging have been accumulated for aeons.
We are heedless and we need many reminders of the truth. Our life is very short and
therefore, we should not waste opportunities to listen and consider the Dhamma. Ac-
tually, life is as short as one moment of citta. Each moment of seeing or hearing is
one moment in the cycle of birth and death. Seeing is only once in a life time and
then it falls away. Hearing is only once in a life time and then it falls away. Life is
only one moment of citta experiencing an object.
One of the first days of our stay we went to Bangsai. Bangsai is near Ayudhaya. Here
Khun Duangduen has a peaceful place, surrounded by fields and near a temple. In the
background we could hear the monks preaching, because it was Uposatha day 3 .
Acharn asked: "Do you know me? What you see is only visible object, and you do
not know visible object yet. It is very difficult to eliminate the idea of self and it can
only be achieved by panna. Is there visible object or are there people around here? It
takes a long time to develop the understanding of not me, not anyone, no self, no
thing in it. Seeing sees only visible object. It has to be right now, it should be very
natural. Understanding begins to develop, there is no T who tries. It is a very long
way but one can begin to see that the Buddha knew through his enlightenment what-
ever reality appears. The development of right understanding has to be the under-
standing of whatever appears now."
She wanted to remind us that we see only visible object, not a person. She said: "Me
or visible object, exactly the same. But you don't know visible object. Understanding
has to be developed until there is no one at all, no thing at all in that which can just
impinge on the eyesense. Citta arises to see it and then falls away. Visible object can-
not be anyone. What is left is only the sign (nimitta) of reality, no matter there is see-
ing, hearing, thinking. Even intellectual understanding is not easy. Whatever arises is
3 Special day of vigilance.
like a flash. Attachment cannot be known by a self, only right understanding can
It is true that persons cannot impinge on the eyesense, only visible object or colour
can impinge on it so that it can be seen.
Someone asked whether the "Element of Wind" or motion can be experienced
through the bodysense. This is a kind of rupa (physical phenomenon) that can be ex-
perienced as motion or pressure.
Acharn Sujin answered: "You like to experience it, and there is not the understanding
of it when it appears. That is the point. Attachment or craving is the second noble
Truth 4 . If this is not gradually eliminated, it hinders. Someone may try very hard to
make the Element of Wind or motion appear. Right now, many realities have passed
without there being understanding of them, including motion, heat or anything. It is
not under anyone's control to let it appear. Mindfulness, sati, can be aware of it 5 . Sati
is very rapid. Before we can think about it, it is already aware. There is no need to
think that one would like to know a particular reality. It is time to accumulate under-
standing so that there are conditions for having less attachment to experiencing par-
ticular realities. Would you like to have satipatthana 6 right now?"
Nina: "I would like to."
Acharn: "That is already wrong practice, sllabbata paramasa, clinging to rites and rit-
Nina: "Already? That is very heavy."
Sarah: "It is very common."
Acharn: "Anything which does not lead to the understanding of reality is sllabbata
Nina: "That is so strong. It had not thought of that. Such a strong word."
Acharn: "Only panna can see reality as it is. Otherwise there is no understanding of
Understanding of realities is developed by listening to the Dhamma and carefully
considering it. When intellectual understanding has been developed sufficiently, there
are conditions for direct understanding of realities. When the mental factor sati is
aware of a characteristic of reality, understanding, panna, can know its true nature.
4 The Buddha taught four noble Truths: the Truth of suffering, dukkha. The Truth of the cause of
suffering which is craving or attachment. The Truth of the cessation of suffering which is nibbana.
The Truth of the Path leading to the cessation of suffering which is the eightfold Path, the
development of right understanding of realities.
5 Sati, mindfulness or awareness, is non-forgetful of the realities that appear. Usually there is
forgetfulness, we are absorbed in thinking of "stories". When kusala citta with sati arises there can
be mindfulness of one reality at a time as it appears through one of the senses or the mind-door.
6 Satipatthana is the development of right understanding of mental phenomena and physical
Parma is another cetasika that may accompany kusala citta (wholesome citta). Cittas
may be akusala (unwholesome), kusala, vipakacitta (result of kamma) or kiriyacitta,
inoperative citta 7 . Nobody can make a particular citta arise, they arise because of
their own conditions.
Realities have each their own characteristic that can be directly experienced. Con-
cepts are not realities, they can only be objects of thought, they do not have charac-
teristics that can be directly experienced. The truth of non-self pertains to realities.
Person or chair do not have the characteristic of anatta.
It is important to know the difference between realities and concepts. Seeing and vis-
ible object are realities. Seeing sees what is visible, what has impinged on the eye-
sense. There is no person who sees, only seeing sees. Dhammas that appear one at a
time through one of the senses or the mind-door are ultimate realities or paramattha
dhammas 8 . Ultimate realities have each their own unalterable characteristic. We may
call them by another name but their characteristics cannot be altered. Seeing is al-
ways seeing, no matter how we call it. Persons, trees, chairs are not ultimate realities,
they are concepts formed up by thinking.
We dream of persons, mountains or trees. These are all stories we think of. When we
see someone in our dreams it is not really seeing, but thinking of what is remem-
bered, of what we saw before. It seems so real, it seems that we really see. When we
believe that we see a person now, while we are awake, it is exactly the same; this is
not seeing of what is visible, it is only thinking.
We read in the "Middle Length Sayings", "Potaliyasutta" (I, 365) that the Buddha
used different similes for sense pleasures. The text states:
"And, householder, it is as if a man might see in a dream delightful parks, de-
lightful woods, delightful stretches of level ground and delightful lakes; but on
waking up could see nothing. Even so, householder, an ariyan disciple reflects
thus: 'Pleasures of the senses have been likened by the Lord to a dream, of
much pain, of much tribulation, wherein is more peril. ' And having seen this
thus as it really is by means of perfect wisdom... the material things of the
world are stopped entirely."
It is necessary to consider why we want to study the Dhamma. We study to have
more understanding of what is real, to have more understanding of the fact that there
is nobody in what is seen or heard, nobody who sees or hears. We have accumulated
7 Kiriyacitta performs different functions within a process. The arahat has no more kusala cittas but
he has kiriyacittas instead.
Paramattha means the highest sense. In Pali "parama" is highest and "attha" is meaning or sense.
Paramattha dhammas are: citta, cetasika, rupa and nibbana.
so much ignorance and wrong view for aeons and aeons and, thus, we cannot expect
to get rid of these soon. Only panna, wisdom or understanding, can eradicate igno-
rance, but it develops only very little at a time. If we think that we can control or ma-
nipulate understanding or make it grow, there will only be more attachment and
wrong view. Thus, there should not be any expectations as to the growth of panna, it
develops according to its own conditions. It does not belong to us.
Acharn said: "We talk very often about visible object and seeing. Otherwise we are
always forgetful of realities. We think of a collection of several realities as 'some-
thing'. When sati is aware of a reality it is time to know that all the stories we think
of are useless. They are only the object of thinking. Without thinking there is no situ-
ation. Ignorance conditions attachment."
During our discussions Acharn emphasized very much the uselessness of experienc-
ing objects. They are gone immediately, but we are clinging to objects, life after life.
What is the use of clinging to what falls away immediately? Acharn wanted to re-
mind us that life is dukkha (suffering), not worth clinging to. But just now we do not
see the danger and disadvantage of all our experiences in life. Only panna that sees
realities as they are can realize this. Panna can condition detachment. There can be a
letting go, even of panna, not wanting it again and again. There should be no selec-
tion of the objects of awareness and understanding.
Acharn said: "The characteristic of hardness appears as 'no one'. Panna can see that
this is part of the cycle of birth and death (samsara). The cycle is the succession of
the arising and falling away of realities. There is no one there."
The English discussions in Bangkok took place in the "Dhamma Study and Support
Foundation" 9 . On Sunday I attended Thai sessions the whole day. For luncheon we
walked to a restaurant nearby. The widow of Khun Denpong sponsored one of these
luncheons. Khun Denpong passed away three years ago and before he died he said to
Acharn Sujin: "I would like to live just somewhat longer in order to develop more
understanding." I have known him as someone who always had many good ques-
tions. His widow said that he was a wise man.
After luncheon Elle helped me to take the difficult, steep steps down from this restau-
rant on the way back to the Foundation. We talked about the deaths of our husbands
and spoke about it how sudden death comes. There is no time to take leave of our
dear ones. We were dwelling on stories of the past, "once upon a time". This is think-
ing and Acharn' s words always bring us back to reality now.
9 This is the center where all sessions with Acharn Sujin take place each weekend.
I remember what Acharn once said to Khun Weera when his wife, Khun Bong, was
about to die:
"Dukkha is heavy, nobody likes it. It is a danger, it causes citta to be sorrowful, trou-
bled. Nobody is freed from it, but we must understand it. When we have more under-
standing of the Dhamma we shall see that what arises must fall away, this cannot be
Birth is really troublesome. We have to eat to stay alive, we have to see, there is no
end to seeing. Seeing is a burden, because of seeing there is attachment. Is seeing
beneficial or is it a danger and disadvantage? When there is seeing, there will be
clinging to what is seen. We are searching for the things we like, but if we do not
search for what we like we live more at ease. From where comes the burden? From
seeing and from wanting the things we see. We can come to understand that each cit-
ta that arises and falls away is a burden. Everything that arises and falls away is great
dukkha. Defilements cannot be eradicated by ignorance, only by understanding.
When we listen more and develop understanding more there will be less dukkha.
Everyone has to die, this cannot be changed. What arises now has to fall away, and
then there is nothing left. When a dhamma arises and there is ignorance, one clings
and takes it for 'self or 'mine'."
Not knowing conditioned realities which arise and fall away is ignorance. Ignorance,
in Pali avijja or moha, is an akusala cetasika (unwholesome mental factor) that ac-
companies each akusala citta. It is the root of all that is akusala. We read in the fol-
lowing text ("Sammaditthi Sutta: The Discourse on Right View", MN 9) 10 that igno-
rance is not understanding the four noble Truths. We read :
"Not knowing about suffering, not knowing about the origin of suffering, not
knowing about the cessation of suffering, not knowing about the way leading
to the cessation of suffering — this is called ignorance."
We have to apply this text to the present moment. The first noble Truth, suffering,
dukkha, is the arising and falling away of reality now. Seeing now falls away and it
never comes back. All our experiences fall away never to return. What is imperma-
nent is not worth clinging to, clinging only brings sorrow.
The second noble Truth, the origin of suffering, that is craving or attachment. So long
as we have attachment there are conditions for realities to arise again and again in
new births. Also now we have attachment, attachment to all sense objects, and we of-
ten have subtle attachment we do not notice. Whatever we do, whatever we say,
whatever we are thinking, the idea of self is there. During our discussions Acharn
reminded us time and again of this fact. Even when we engage in kusala, we do this
often for the sake of ourselves.
The third noble Truth, the cessation of suffering, is nibbana 11 . We cannot imagine
what it is like but Acharn said that no arising and falling away is to be preferred to
arising and falling away, which is the dukkha of life.
The fourth noble Truth, the way leading to cessation, this is the eightfold Path, the
development of right understanding of realities . Only panna, right understanding,
can eliminate ignorance. Right understanding can be developed by listening to the
Dhamma and carefully considering it. Even one moment of understanding can condi-
10 Translated from the Pali by Nanamoli Thera & Bhikkhu Bodhi. Access to Insight (Legacy
Edition), 30 November 2013.
11 Nibbana is the unconditioned dhamma, it does not arise and fall away. It is experienced by
lokuttara citta, supramundane citta, when enlightenment is attained and defilements are eradicated.
There are four stages of enlightenment and at each stage defilements are eradicated until they are all
eradicated at the attainment of arahatship.
The eightfold Path consists of sobhana cetasikas, beautiful cetasikas, of which the foremost is
right view or panna. The factors of the eightfold Path have to develop on and on so that
enlightenment can be attained.
tion the arising of understanding again later on. Understanding, a cetasika that ac-
companies kusala citta (wholesome citta), falls away together with the citta, but it is
not lost. Cittas arise and fall away in succession, and, thus, understanding is accumu-
lated in the citta from moment to moment so that there are conditions for its arising
again. We have accumulated ignorance and wrong understanding for aeons and there-
fore, they cannot be eliminated immediately. Courage and patience are needed to
continue to listen and develop more understanding. That is the reason why Acharn
explained time and again about seeing and visible object and all realities of daily life.
We listen to the Dhamma in order to have more understanding of realities. A begin-
ning can be made now: seeing appears now and what is the nature of seeing? Seeing
only sees what is visible, seeing is not a person, no "I" who sees. Visible object is a
type of rupa, a physical phenomenon, and it can impinge on the eyesense which is
another rupa. Visible object and eyesense are rupas, they do not know anything. They
are conditions for seeing. Seeing is a type of nama, a mental phenomenon, a citta that
experiences visible object. Cittas arise and fall away in succession very rapidly. It
seems that we see immediately the shape and form of persons and things, but in reali-
ty there are many different cittas arising and falling away.
It seems that there is one moment of seeing and perceiving people and things all at
the same time, but in reality there are many different moments. Seeing arises in a
process of several cittas that experience visible object. When that process is over,
there is another process of cittas experiencing visible object through the mind-door.
Later on other processes of cittas arise that think of shape and form and take this for a
person or thing. It seems that there is a long period of seeing people and things, but in
reality there are many different cittas succeeding one another.
Seeing does not think, it only sees, but when it has fallen away we think of long sto-
ries, forgetting that thinking of stories is conditioned by seeing, hearing and the other
sense-cognitions. Acharn said: "After once upon a time, then what? Right now there
is past all the time. Even now, it is once upon a time."
Sarah remarked: "Not only when we are asleep, but even now we are always dream-
ing, building up stories with worry about how to take steps in the dark. Always sto-
ries like 'once upon a time', continuing the story again and again."
Citta knows an object, each citta knows or experiences a particular object and the
cetasikas that accompany it also experience that object, but while they are doing so,
they each have their own function or task while they assist the citta. Citta is the leader
in knowing the object and the cetasikas are the assistants of citta. When we read
about cetasikas, we should not get lost in names or terms. It is not the name that is
important, but the characteristic of cetasika that can be gradually understood. Study-
ing them helps us to see that citta is conditioned by the cetasikas that accompany it.
Citta cannot arise without cetasikas and cetasikas cannot arise without citta. The
Buddha taught conditions for the dhammas that arise in order to make it clear that
they do not belong to us, that they are not "self or "mine".
Feeling is a cetasika that accompanies each citta, and we find feeling so important.
We cling to it all day long. Feeling may be happy, unhappy or indifferent. It is only a
conditioned dhamma. Attachment (lobha) and aversion or anger (dosa) are unwhole-
some cetasikas (akusala cetasikas). We do not have to name them in order to come to
understand their characteristics when they appear. When they appear now, at the pre-
sent moment, their different characteristics can be known very gradually. When there
are conditions they arise and nobody can prevent their arising. They can be under-
stood as anatta.
We have to know the difference between intellectual understanding of a reality such
as seeing, and the actual, direct understanding of seeing when it sees, just now. That
is understanding without words. We usually pay attention only to that which is
known, seen or heard, and we forget that without citta there would not be anything
that appears, no world. Visible object could not appear if there were no seeing, sound
could not appear if there were no hearing. There can be less attachment to citta that
experiences and to that which is known by citta. But we should not have any expecta-
tions. Understanding cannot arise by wishing or wanting. We can come to know that
all the time the idea of self comes in that wishes to know, wishes to observe, and this
works counteractive. When there is more understanding of realities it leads to de-
tachment from the idea of self who wants to do something, who is trying to know.
We had planned to go to Kaeng Krachan outside Bangkok and this was on the first
day that Bangkok would be "shut down" by those who opposed prime minister
Yingluck and the government. Streets would be barricaded. The day before our de-
parture was a Sunday and the Foundation was closed so that people could prepare for
the "shut down". This happened to be Acharn's birthday, of which she said that she
would rather be without it. However, now people still came with presents on Satur-
day. We had an opportunity, with Betty's help, to give her presents and appreciate
other people's generosity. They smiled and kept on telling her how much they appre-
ciated her teaching. Some people presented her with huge vegetables. In no time the
whole room was packed with presents.
We could go on our journey as planned and we stayed four nights in Kaeng Krachan.
We stayed in bungalows situated in a large park with flowering trees. Early morning
we walked from the bungalow where we stayed through the park to the restaurant for
breakfast, outside along a lake. For the discussions we were sitting in the garden at
the place where Acharn and Khun Duangduen stayed. The subject of our discussions
was mental phenomena and physical phenomena, the many defilements that arise and
kamma that brings result. A good deed, kusala kamma or a bad deed , akusala kam-
ma, can produce result later on, even after many lives. The kusala citta or akusala cit-
ta that motivates a deed falls away but kusala and akusala are accumulated from one
citta to the next citta, from life to life. When it is the right time kamma produces re-
sult, vipakacitta, in the form of rebirth-consciousness or the sense-cognitions arising
throughout life, such as seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting or body-consciousness ex-
periencing bodily ease or pain. I mentioned that one never knows when kamma will
produce result. My accident, when I broke my hip, was completely unexpected; I
never thought that it would happen. Acharn reminded me that we always think of
people and situations, but that in reality there are eyesense, seeing, earsense, hearing,
conditioned dhammas that are only there for an extremely short time. She said:
"There is the flux of the elements that arise and fall away, uncontrollable. We should
understand them as not 'me'. There is no one there. We do not have precise under-
standing of a reality that is seen but we keep on thinking in terms of people and situa-
tions. The conditions are not sufficient to make us understand what appears now."
She always referred to the present moment since that is the moment a dhamma ap-
pearing through the senses or the mind-door can be investigated and understood.
They appear one at a time and they each have their own characteristic. When we
think about situations, the reality is thinking; it is usually akusala citta that thinks, and
the situation is not a reality. Acharn reminded us to develop understanding of this
moment, just one moment in the cycle of birth and death.
We were discussing realities, and we can also use the word dhammas or paramattha
dhammas. For example, sound is a reality, it can be directly experienced when it ap-
pears. We do not have to name it sound, but its characteristic can be directly experi-
enced. Thinking about sound is not the same as the direct experience of it. We can
learn that its characteristic cannot be changed into something else. Sound is always
sound, it is the object of hearing. Attachment is always attachment, no matter how we
We think of concepts most of the time. It seems that we hear dogs barking, words
spoken, that we see persons in the room, mountains or trees. But the difference be-
tween concepts and ultimate realities, paramattha dhammas, should be known, at
least on the level of intellectual understanding. This can lead to direct understanding.
Then we shall know that there is no one there, no person. We shall know that realities
are anatta. At this moment anatta is just a word we repeat. But the truth of anatta has
to be directly realized.
When we are thinking about realities they have fallen away already. We all try very
hard to find out the truth about realities, reasoning about them. That is not the way.
What about now, while we ask questions about something or have doubts? Acharn
"At the moment of not understanding, what is there? Usually we think without under-
standing, so it is like a dream. At this moment, what is real? Now, when there is not
direct awareness and understanding, it is a dream. Even when talking about paramat-
tha dhammas the object is a concept of paramattha dhammas, they do not appear.
When there is direct understanding, you are not thinking of that subject."
Also when we ask questions she reminded us to consider the citta that does so. In-
stead of wondering or having doubts shouldn't we attend to the present moment, such
as seeing right now? We should know what type of citta motivates our questions. Of-
ten it is akusala citta.
We had Dhamma discussions in the morning and later in the afternoon, even after
dark. In between we went out for luncheons in different places where we had pano-
ramic views of a lake and mountains or we sat along the waterside. When the steps to
reach the place were too deep for me I always had support from my friends. Acharn,
her sister Khun Jeed and Khun Duangduen offered us a luncheon on the first day and
for the other days we took turns in sponsoring them. Even during luncheon Acharn
untiringly explained about mental phenomena, nama, and physical phenomena, rupa.
We were asking about the characteristic of sati, mindfulness. This is a sobhana ceta-
sika, beautiful cetasika, that can only arise when there are conditions. Nobody can
cause its arising. We touch many times during the day different things and body-
consciousness experiences hardness, but there is no mindfulness of a characteristic of
a reality. Body-consciousness is not accompanied by sati, it is vipakacitta that merely
experiences tangible object. When sati arises it is mindful of the characteristic of tan-
gible object without thinking of the hardness of "my body" and at the same time
panna, understanding, which is another sobhana cetasika, can investigate that charac-
teristic so that it is known as just a dhamma, not belonging to a self.
Listening and discussing are conditions for awareness but we should not be wishing
or wanting to have it.
Acharn explained: "When one is touching and hardness appears it is different from
thinking about what is touched. When a characteristic of a reality appears it is not as
usual because there is direct awareness 13 of it. You do not have to name it and you do
not expect to have it. Understanding knows the difference between the moments of
sati and the moments there is no sati. This is the only starting point for the develop-
ment of awareness. Panna knows when there is attention with awareness to the char-
acteristic that appears. Attachment or aversion may arise when one does not have
awareness as much as one would like to. Sati is only a reality, a dhamma, not differ-
ent from other realities."
Sati can be translated as mindfulness or awareness.
When there is awareness of hardness which is a kind of rupa, there is not some
"thing" in the hardness such as a hand or the table. Only hardness appears and noth-
ing else. It seems that seeing and hearing can arise at the same time, but when aware-
ness arises one knows that realities appear one at a time. Seeing experiences visible
object and hearing experiences sound, these cittas cannot experience more than one
object. At the moment of awareness just one reality appears at a time and there is
nothing else, no world. When this is not realized one knows that understanding has
not been accumulated sufficiently. We need to listen again and consider again and
again. Since ignorance is deeply rooted we cannot expect that panna develops rapid-
ly. In each life very little understanding is being accumulated, Acharn said. Now and
then just a glimpse of understanding arises. When we have an interest in the Dhamma
now and listen to the Dhamma there are conditions for listening again in a future life.
In this way panna develops gradually from life to life.
I had a conversation with Acharn about awareness:
Acharn: "Is there anyone in visible object which is seen? This is the beginning of see-
ing the world as it is. Otherwise one is born and dies without any understanding of
Nina: "I have regret when there is no awareness".
Acharn: "One can see clinging, it is always there. Only panna can lead to detach-
Nina: "When I ask 'how can I develop panna... how can I have more detachment. . . ',
I know that this indicates clinging."
Acharn: "It is a reminder how much ignorance and clinging are there."
Nina: "We have regret about what is all gone."
Acharn: "If there is no understanding of the present reality there will not be any un-
derstanding of the past and the future. There is only thinking. Life is just the arising
of different realities. We begin to understand the reality of dhamma, not just the word
dhamma. Seeing, for example, is real and there is no need to say that seeing is
dhamma. It is the same for hearing. We begin to understand the nature of dhamma: it
is arising and falling away and never comes back."
Sati is aware of the reality appearing now, at the present moment. Acharn repeated
many times that there is seeing now and that its characteristic can be investigated
with awareness. When we think about seeing or talk about it, it is not the same as at-
tending to the characteristic of seeing when it appears at the present moment. We do
not know the past since it is gone, nor do we know the future which has not come yet.
The reality appearing at the present moment can be investigated.
We read in the "Kindred Sayings" (I, the Devas, Ch I, a Reed, 10, Forest 14 ) that the
Buddha spoke about the benefit of attending to the present moment:
Translated by Ven. Bodhi.
At Savatthi. Standing to one side, that devata recited this verse in the presence of the
"Those who dwell deep in the forest,
Peaceful, leading the holy life,
Eating but a single meal a day:
Why is their complexion so serene?"
[The Blessed One:]
"They do not sorrow over the past,
Nor do they hanker for the future,
They maintain themselves with what is present:
Hence their complexion is so serene.
Through hankering for the future,
Through sorrowing over the past,
Fools dry up and wither away
Like a green reed cut down."
Gradual Development of Understanding.
Understanding of the realities that appear through the eyes, the ears, through the other
sense-doors and through the mind-door should be known as they are, as non-self.
First there should be intellectual understanding of realities and this can condition later
on direct understanding. Intellectual understanding is called in Pali: pariyatti. Pari-
yatti pertains to the reality at this moment, be it seeing, visible object, body-
consciousness or hardness. Pariyatti is not mere theoretical knowledge, it is not dif-
ferent from considering reality appearing at this moment. There cannot be direct
awareness and understanding of these realities yet, but one can begin to consider
them when they appear. The texts help us to consider the realities that appear now.
When we read the teachings we should remember that they pertain to this very mo-
We read, for example, in the "Kindred Sayings" (IV, Third Fifty, 5, §152) that the
Buddha said to the monks:
"Is there, brethren, any method, by following which a brother, apart from be-
lief, apart from inclination, apart from hearsay, apart from argument as to
method, apart from reflection on reasons, apart from delight in speculation,
could affirm insight, thus: 'Ended is birth, lived is the righteous life, done is
the task, for life in these conditions there is no hereafter'?"
The Buddha then explained that there is such method:
"Herein, brethren, a brother, beholding an object with the eye, either recogniz-
es within him the existence of lust, malice and illusion, thus: T have lust, mal-
ice and illusion', or recognizes the non-existence of these qualities within him,
thus: 'I have not lust, malice and illusion'. Now as to that recognition of their
existence or non-existence within him, are these conditions, I ask, to be under-
stood by belief, inclination, or hearsay, or argument as to method, or reflection
on reasons, or delight in speculation?"
"Surely not, lord."
"Are not these states to be understood by seeing them with the eye of wis-
The Buddha said that this was the method. He then said the same about the other
sense-cognitions. The Buddha spoke time and again about seeing, hearing and the
other sense-cognitions. One should know one's defilements when they arise. There
should not be mere intellectual understanding; dhammas should be "seen with the eye
We learn that nama (citta and cetasika) is a reality that experiences an object and that
rupa is a reality that does not experience anything. Hardness which is a rupa could
not appear if there were not a citta that experiences it. We may begin to understand
that not a self experiences hardness or any other object. That is understanding of the
level of pariyatti. Pariyatti, when it has been sufficiently developed, leads to patipatti,
awareness and direct understanding of the reality that appears now. Patipatti leads to
pativedha, the direct realization of the truth beginning with the stages of insight-
knowledge 15 and leading on to enlightenment. But if one wishes to have direct un-
derstanding and clings to it, it will not arise.
Acharn spoke many times about pariyatti, explaining that it is different from just
reading the teachings: "It is this moment. It is the same as coming to the Buddha and
listening to his teaching. It all pertains to whatever appears now."
We read in the "Mahaparinibbana Sutta" 16 that the Buddha, before he passed away,
exhorted the monks: "Behold now, Bhikkhus, I exhort you: Transient are all the ele-
ments of being! Strive with earnestness!"
The commentary explains: "You should accomplish all your duties without allowing
mindfulness to lapse!"
We should listen heedfully and learn to understand the present reality, then we follow
the Buddha's teachings. Acharn explained that all of the teachings deal with the pre-
sent reality as non-self. She said several times that we should carefully study each
word of the teachings. I remarked that life is so short and that we should not waste
opportunities to hear true Dhamma.
Acharn answered: "Understanding of the words 'once upon a time' can condition de-
tachment. There can be more understanding of each moment as just once in a life
We think of a whole life that lasts but actually life is only one short moment of citta,
such as seeing, hearing or thinking. They are part of the cycle of birth and death
which goes on and on so long as there is ignorance and attachment. Each reality that
arises falls away and never returns. It occurs only once in a life -time.
Insight, direct understanding of nama and rupa, is developed in the course of several stages of
insight leading on to enlightenment, when nibbana is experienced and defilements are eradicated.
16 Wheel Publication 67-69, Kandy. Ven. Nyanaponika added in a note the explanation of the
commentary to this sutta.
We read in the "Mahaniddesa" (I, 42) quoted by the Visuddhimagga (VII, 39):
"Life, person, pleasure, pain- just these alone
Join in one conscious moment that flicks by.
Ceased aggregates of those dead or alive
Are all alike, gone never to return
No [world is] born if [consciousness is] not
Produced; when that is present, then it lives;
When consciousness dissolves, the world is dead:
The highest sense this concept will allow."
As we read: "ceased aggregates of those dead or alive, are all alike, gone never to re-
turn." The nama and rupa that fall away at this moment will never return and so it is
at the moment of dying. When understanding is developed of the present reality there
will be less clinging to a self who could make realities arise or be master of them.
Acharn explained that when the citta is full of akusala there will not be much interest
in listening to the Dhamma and developing understanding. Akusala has been accumu-
lated in many lives and, thus, very few moments of kusala citta arise. The good quali-
ties which are the perfections 18 are supportive to the development of panna up to the
stage of enlightenment. We should develop them, not because we expect a result of
kusala, but because we see the danger of each kind of akusala. Our aim is the eradica-
tion of defilements and eventually to reach the end of the cycle of birth and death.
Kusala citta can arise with panna or without it. Kusala is not a perfection when it is
not accompanied by panna, but panna does not arise very often. Acharn spoke about
"pre-paramls", indicating that kusala, even without understanding, can precede the
arising of the perfections. At the moment of kusala citta there is no opportunity for
the arising of akusala citta, and, thus, there is no accumulation of akusala. It depends
on conditions what type of kusala citta arises. If we try very hard to make kusala citta
with panna arise, we are clinging to the idea of self who can exert control over reali-
ties. We need the perfection of truthfulness so that we do not mislead ourselves, be-
lieving that there is kusala citta whereas in reality there is the wrong view of self. We
need patience and courage so that we are not discouraged and panna continues to in-
vestigate the characteristic of the present reality.
As to the word "the highest sense this concept will allow", the commentary to the "Visuddhi-
magga" explains: "the ultimate sense will allow this concept of continuity, which is what the
expression of common usage "Tissa lives, Phussa lives" refers to, and which is based on
consciousness (momentarily) existing along with a physical support; this belongs to the ultimate
sense here, since, as they say, "It is not the name and surname that lives" (Paramattha-manjusa 242,
The perfections or paramis are: generosity, morality, renunciation, wisdom, energy, patience,
truthfulness, determination, loving kindness, equanimity. The Buddha developed these for aeons in
order to become the Sammasambuddha.
The present reality is nama or rupa. Nama, citta and cetasika, experiences an object,
whereas rupa does not experience anything. There are twentyeight classes of rupa,
but seven rupas appear all the time in daily life. These are: visible object appearing
through the eye-door, sound appearing through the ear-door, odour appearing through
the nose-door, flavour appearing through the tongue-door, and the three tangibles of
solidity (the Earth Element), temperature (the Fire Element) and motion (the Wind
Element) to be experienced through the bodysense. Solidity appears as hardness or
softness, temperature appears as heat or cold, and motion appears as motion (oscilla-
tion) or pressure.
Rupas do not arise solely, they arise in groups. The four Great Elements which are
the Element of Earth or solidity, of Water or cohesion, of Fire or temperature, and of
Wind or motion, always arise with each group of rupas, they are the foundation for
each group. The Element of Water or cohesion cannot be experienced through the
bodysense, only through the mind-door. Visible object is always accompanied by the
four Great Elements. The four Great Elements arise in different combinations with
visible object and that is why they condition visible object to be seen as different col-
ours. For example, the Element of Earth or solidity that accompanies visible object
may have different degrees of hardness or softness, the Element of Fire or tempera-
ture that accompanies it may have different degrees of heat or cold. There are many
varieties in these Elements.
A rupa such as visible object is not only experienced by seeing, it is experienced by
several cittas arising in a process. Rupa does not fall away as rapidly as nama 19 . One
rupa such as visible object can be experienced by several cittas arising in a process.
Only seeing sees visible object, and the other cittas of that process do not see, but
they perform other functions while they experience visible object. When visible ob-
ject, sound or another sense object has been experienced by cittas arising in a sense-
door process, it is experienced by cittas arising in a mind-door process. Thus, rupa
can be experienced through a sense-door and after the sense-door process is over, it is
experienced through the mind-door. Nama is only experienced through the mind-
door. We should not try to find out when there is a sense-door process and when a
mind-door process. Cittas arise and fall away in different processes extremely rapidly
and only when the first stage of insight arises will we know what a mind-door pro-
Acharn said that we discuss seeing and visible object, hearing and sound so that there
are conditions for the arising of awareness. Without intellectual understanding the
arising of awareness is not possible. She said about the experience of hardness:
"When hearing again and again that there is no one in hardness, no arms, no legs, that
Rupa lasts as long as seventeen moments of citta.
it is only hardness, there can be conditions for understanding the characteristic of
hardness. It just appears and there is no need to name it. Usually it does not appear.
There is touching and then other things are experienced immediately. But when sati
arises hardness appears, even if it is very short. It is different from the moment when
it does not appear to sati, there is just a slight difference. When there is more atten-
tion to that characteristic with the understanding that there is no one in it, panna de-
velops. Because of conditions one does not pay attention to other things at that mo-
ment. Panna begins to understand that characteristic as not 'me' or T. Hardness ap-
pears to the reality that is aware. There is no idea of T am aware.' One can under-
stand the anattaness of reality. It arises unexpectedly."
Our discussions about nama and rupa were held in different places. The location was
changed, but the subject of discussion was always about realities appearing now.
Nama and rupa appear, wherever we are. We went to Hotel Toscana, outside Bang-
kok and this was a resort in the mountainous region of Suanpheung past Ratchbury.
Our hostesses were Khun Luk and Khun Ten. They were very concerned about my
handicap and arranged things in such a way that I would stay in their bungalow, in a
room near Sarah and Jonothan so that I would be more comfortable. All discussions
were in a new building where Acharn and her sister Khun Jeed stayed. The place was
hilly with a large orchard. Our hostesses supported me whenever I had to take big
steps to enter the bungalow or to go out. We took turns to sponsor the luncheons
which were nearby in woods or near waterfalls. All around we had a panoramic view
of the mountains.
At that time there was a cold period for a few days, and in the morning even frost was
on the grass. Maeve became ill and had to go to hospital where two of our friends,
Elle and Azita, were allowed to stay overnight with her. They discussed different cit-
tas that arise in such situations. Kusala cittas arise when helping, but there were many
akusala vipakacittas when unpleasant odours were experienced. Elle and Azita, while
walking, saw a picture and each of them was taken in by what she saw according to
her different accumulations. Elle who is always engaged with flowers and who ar-
ranges the flowers at the Foundation in Bangkok, saw immediately flowers on that
picture. Whereas Azita, who is a nurse, saw on the same picture a mother nursing her
child. We all follow our different accumulations in life. It is due to the different ac-
cumulations as to what is interpreted and imagined on account of the visible object
which is seen.
Awareness of nama and rupa should be very natural so that panna comes to know ac-
cumulations. When lobha, attachment, arises, panna can come to know it. If it is ig-
nored, panna will never know it. I said that when I find the akusala that arises very
ugly, I do not want to know it, I rather suppress it. Acharn explained that if one tries
not to have akusala with an idea of self who is trying there is wrong practice. Aware-
ness should be very natural. Natural is the way of anatta, she said. I thought before
that the natural way of development is easy, but now I see that it is not easy. The nat-
ural way is difficult when defilements are in the way. When panna becomes stronger
it is a condition for the natural way of development. There can be awareness and un-
derstanding of whatever dhamma appears, pleasant or unpleasant, wholesome or un-
wholesome. This is the way to know our accumulations. The perfection of truthful-
ness is necessary, so that we do not delude ourselves into thinking that we have a
great deal of kusala.
The hidden Self.
So long as we are not a sotapanna 20 who has eradicated the wrong view of self we
are not free from clinging to the idea of self. Acharn helped us to realize that clinging
to the idea of self happens more often than we ever thought. I had a conversation with
Acharn about wrong view. I thought that there was just ignorance, not clinging to the
idea of self.
Nina: "I am not thinking all the time that this is my eye or that I am seeing. So, there
is just ignorance."
Acharn: "What is there?"
Acharn: "But the idea of 'I see' is there. Not the other person sees, it is 'I see' ".
Nina: "Where is it when I do not think 'It is I?' "
Acharn: "If there would be no I at the moment of seeing it would be completely erad-
Nina: "We usually think of concepts like a table or a person who is sitting here."
Acharn: "At the moment of seeing, who is seeing? The other person? Not the other
person is seeing."
Nina: "I, I who is seeing".
So long as it is not directly understood that seeing sees, we are bound to take seeing
for self, even if it is not apparent. That is why Acharn spoke about seeing and visible
object every day. It seems that there is no wrong view but it is there. She also re-
minded us that when we read or study, this may be with the idea of self. One may
think: "O, I have read this, I understand better" and that is reading with the idea of "I
want to have more understanding". Parma has to become keener and keener to see
when the idea of self is there, no matter how large or slight it is. It seems that we
have understanding of words like nama and rupa, or of dhamma, but these are just
words and there is no understanding of a characteristic of reality that appears. If one
would never consider what appears now it means that there is no understanding.
Acharn repeated again: "Dhamma means 'no one there' in reality."
We were talking about accumulated inclinations and I mentioned that I like to appre-
ciate what is wholesome in others, that I am inclined to "anumodana dana" . Acharn
The sotapanna or "streamwinner" is the person who has attained the first stage of enlightenment.
He has eradicated wrong view, but he still has defilements. There are four stages and at each stage
different defilements are eradicated. The stage of the arahat, when all defilements are eradicated, is
the fourth stage.
Anumodana means gratefulness, and dana is generosity. It is the appreciation of someone else's
mentioned that there may be attachment at such moments: one likes to have such
thoughts and one may be clinging to the idea of self at those moments. It is true, most
often one clings to a self, a self which is thought to be kusala. This is not known most
of the time.
We may want to have more understanding than we actually have at this moment, and
that is clinging to a self, that is wrong. Whatever we say or think, mostly it is done
with the idea of self. There may be clinging to the idea of self even when we do not
think, that it is "I" or "mine". Clinging is a yoke, it is like the thread of a spider's
web, very fine but strong and hard to cut through.
Seeing sees visible object. When sati arises one can begin to know that it is not "I"
who sees. Seeing is different from visible object. Only very little at a time can be un-
derstood. Visible object may appear, but we should not try to make ourselves experi-
ence visible object with nobody in it. When we learn more about nama and rupa there
will be conditions for awareness of them.
Very shortly after seeing, hearing or the other sense-cognitions akusala citta with
clinging arises already. Acharn said that it is not easy to understand that there is
clinging to seeing right now. It sees. When asked "who sees?" we would answer that
it is "me". She explained that the more understanding develops, the more it realizes
how difficult and subtle the Path is. As understanding develops, it has to understand
more and more subtle defilements and other dhammas as not self. Parma can see how
complex it is to have more understanding of each reality. If there is no understanding
latent tendencies cannot be eradicated. When I remarked that we would have less
problems when there is more understanding, she answered: "Right, but panna goes
deeper, deeper than we can imagine. Panna has to become very keen and develop,
otherwise it cannot understand realities as not self. Panna has to see lobha in order to
let go of taking lobha for 'me'. Energy or effort (viriya cetasika) encourages one to
continue all the way."
Clinging can be so subtle that it is not noticed. That is why the Buddha taught us the
akusala cetasikas which are asavas, intoxicants or cankers.
There are four asavas (Dhammasangani §1096-1 100):
1 . the canker of sensuous desire (kamasava),
2. the canker of becoming (bhavasava),
3. the canker of wrong view (ditthasava),
4. the canker of ignorance (avijjasava).
The asavas keep on flowing from birth to death, they are also flowing at this moment.
Are we not attached to what we see? Then there is the canker of sensuous desire,
kamasava. We are attached to visible object, sound, odour, flavour and tangible ob-
ject. We are infatuated with the objects we experience through the senses and we
wish to go on experiencing them. One of the cankers is clinging to becoming. Every
one clings to becoming, to being alive. We want to experience all objects through the
Another group of defilements is the group of the Floods or Oghas (Dhammasangani
§1151). There are four floods which are the same defilements as the cankers, but the
classification as floods shows a different aspect. The "floods" submerge a person
again and again in the cycle of birth and death.
Another group of defilements are the Yoghas or Yokes. They are the same defile-
ments as the cankers and the floods. The yoghas or yokes are stronger than the asa-
vas, they tie us to the cycle of birth and death.
We often ask questions with an idea of self, and it is unknown when we cling to the
idea of self at such a moment. Acharn would remind us all the time: "There is a
yoke." When I answered that I would not say anything any more, she said "Yoke
again". We cannot escape the yokes but they are there to be known. We have to de-
velop understanding, only panna can know realities precisely.
Acharn said: "Does one mind about having kusala or akusala? When one minds it is
'me', the yoke is there. If one tries to stop akusala, how can one know one's accumu-
lations? The idea of 'self is so strong. There is no understanding that it is there,
while one is wishing. Many people just want to be good and they do not know their
defilements at this moment. Right mindfulness can arise before you can think about
wanting to have it, or waiting for its arising. In the same way as seeing arises. This is
the understanding of its nature of anatta. Panna understands when there is a moment
with sati and when without sati. Otherwise sati cannot develop. It does not develop
with desire and this is very difficult. Usually there is attachment but panna can begin
to understand attachment. One is trapped all day."
Seeing only sees what is visible object and after it has gone we think of many stories
on account of what was seen. Seeing arises only for one moment and at that moment
people and things do not appear. After that many moments of thinking arise. Every
reality arises only once, "once upon a time", and then it is gone completely. Acharn
asked several times: "Is it worth clinging to what is completely gone, each moment?"
We think of what is past, once upon a time, and then we live in a dream. Without
awareness and direct understanding life is like a dream. Even when we talk about ul-
timate realities we are dreaming, we are not mindful of them. When direct under-
standing arises we are awake just for a moment. At the moment of direct understand-
ing no words are needed and as soon as we use a word we are thinking. At that mo-
ment the reality has gone completely.
We learn from the texts that kamma produces result, vipaka, in the form of rebirth-
consciousness and of sense-cognitions throughout life, such as seeing or hearing.
Without understanding of the characteristic of seeing, we cannot know what
vipakacitta is. "It is still me, not vipaka", Acharn said. In the beginning it is not pos-
sible to understand seeing as vipaka. Seeing has to be known as a reality, as a
dhamma. Seeing is nama, it has no shape and form; it arises because of conditions
and it sees now. It is different from thinking. We do not have to name it vipaka or
think of vipaka. No one can prevent seeing from arising. It is uppatti (origin, coming
forth). It just appears for a moment, but we believe we see people and think of many
stories, and that is nibbatti (generation, resulted) 22 . There are five pairs of the sense-
cognitions of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and the experience of tangible object
through the bodysense, and of each pair, one is kusala vipakacitta, the result of kusala
kamma, and one is akusala vipakacitta, the result of akusala kamma. These cittas di-
rectly experience a sense object as it arises at the appropriate sense-base.
We can come to know the difference between seeing that directly sees visible object
and the other cittas that follow. Even the citta that succeeds seeing and that, though it
does not see, still experiences visible object, needs the cetasika vitakka, thinking, in
order to be able to experience visible object. Vitakka is translated as thinking, but it is
not thinking in conventional sense. It "strikes" or touches the object so that citta can
experience it. Afterwards in that sense-door process kusala cittas or akusala cittas
arise in a series of seven and they experience visible object in a wholesome way or
unwholesome way. In the following mind-door process kusala cittas or akusala cittas
arise, and after that mind-door processes of cittas arise that think about the object.
Thus, the vipakacittas that are the sense-cognitions of seeing, hearing, smelling, tast-
ing and the experience of tangible object directly experience the relevant sense object
and they do not need vitakka. They are completely different from all following cittas.
In order to distinguish them from the following cittas they are called "uppatti".
Whereas the following cittas are called "nibbatti".
Throughout our discussions Acharn emphasized time and again the difference be-
tween uppatti and nibbatti. Uppatti, such as seeing or hearing, is what appears now.
One moment of seeing or hearing is quite different from the following moments of
citta when we think of what was seen or heard, when we think of stories that are not
real, when we live in a dream. It reminds us of the fact that seeing arises and falls
away very rapidly and that after they have fallen away we are thinking on account of
what is seen for a long time. We believe that the stories we think of are true. We like
what has already fallen away. We continue to live in the past, in what is "once upon a
These terms occur in the "Visuddhimagga" XXI, 37, 38, under "appearance as terror".
"Herein, arising (uppado) is appearance here [in this becoming] with previous kamma as condition
(purimakammapaccaya idha uppatti).... Generation (nibbatti) is the generating of aggregates (the
time". Thinking is conditioned and we should not try not to think but it can be under-
stood as a reality different from seeing. It is beyond control. The notions of uppatti
and nibbatti remind us of the nature of anatta of realities. The Buddha explained time
again about the sense-cognitions and the objects experienced by them. After the
sense-cognitions kusala cittas or akusala cittas may arise. When there are mindfulness
and understanding, ignorance will be eliminated and even arahatship may be attained.
In the "Bahiyasutta" ("Minor Anthologies", Khuddaka Patha, the "Verses of Uplift"
Udana, I, 10) we read that Bahiya Daruclriya thought of himself as an arahat. A deva
advised him to visit the Buddha at Savatthl. He asked the Buddha to give him a
teaching but the Buddha refused this two times. The commentary 23 explained that the
reason for this was that Bahiya was too excited to listen. When Bahiya asked for a
teaching the third time, the Buddha said:
"Then, Bahiya, thus must you train yourself: In the seen there will be just the
seen, in the heard just the heard, in the imagined just the imagined, in the cog-
nized just the cognized. Thus you will have no 'thereby'. That is how you must
train yourself. Now, Bahiya, when in the seen there will be to you just the seen,
in the heard just the heard, in the imagined just the imagined, in the cognized
just the cognized, then, Bahiya, as you will have no 'thereby', you will have no
'therein'. As you, Bahiya, will have no 'therein', it follows that you will have
no 'here' or 'beyond' or 'midway between'. That is just the end of 111."
We read that Bahiya attained arahatship. Not long after the departure of the Exalted
One, Bahiya was attacked by a cow and gored to death.
We read in the commentary as to "with respect to the seen... merely the seen...": "It is
of the extent seen (ditthamattam) since it has the extent seen (dittha matta), meaning,
the thought process will be of the same extent as eye-consciousness. This is what is
said: 'Just as eye-consciousness is not excited, is not blemished, is not deluded with
respect to the form that has gone into its range, so will there be for me an impulsion
of the same extent as eye-consciousness in which lust and so on are absent, I will set
up an impulsion of the same measure as eye-consciousness.' "
Seeing-consciousness is vipakacitta which is not accompanied by the unwholesome
roots of attachment, aversion and ignorance. It merely sees visible object. Usually
akusala cittas with attachment and ignorance follow upon seeing, but when there is
awareness and right understanding instead they do not arise. Bahiya could not have
reached arahatship without realizing nama and riipa as mere dhammas. We read fur-
ther on in the commentary about visible object and seeing:"... occurring (as they do)
in accordance with conditions, being solely and merely dhammas; there is, in this
Translated by Peter Masefield, Volume I. PTS.
connection, neither a doer nor one who causes things to be done, as a result of which,
since (the seen) is impermanent in the sense of being oppressed by way of rise and
fall, not-self in the sense of proceeding uncontrolled, whence the opportunity for ex-
citement and so on with respect thereto on the part of one who is wise?"
The same is said with respect to the other objects experienced by the sense-cognitions
through the relevant doorways.
It will take a long time to know seeing as it is, as a mere dhamma. Sometimes a mo-
ment of understanding may arise and after that ignorance arises again and covers up
the truth. As Acharn said, we should not mind, because that is the way it is. If we
long for more understanding we are yoked again.
Thinking of the Past.
We think of death as the end of a lifespan but in reality there is at each moment death
of citta that falls away. There are three kinds of deaths : momentary death, khanika
marana, which is the arising and falling away of all conditioned dhammas; conven-
tional death, sammuti marana, which is dying at the end of a lifespan; final death,
samuccheda marana, which is parinibbana, the final passing away of the arahat who
does not have to be reborn.
Life goes on without understanding the truth. Seeing sees visible object and because
of our delusion we think that we see people who seem to be already there. It also
seems that seeing can stay, that we are seeing all the time. Ignorance covers up the
truth. Seeing falls away immediately, but since dhammas arise and fall away so rap-
idly it seems that the different moments of seeing that arise again and again are one
period of time that lasts for a while. Understanding can be developed of the charac-
teristic of seeing and there is no need to pinpoint in what process it has arisen.
Seeing falls away but the sign (in Pali: nimitta) of seeing remains. Even so visible ob-
ject falls away but the sign or nimitta of visible object remains. The nimitta covers up
the truth of realities which arise and fall away very rapidly in succession. No one can
really directly experience one particular reality, because there are so many realities
arising and falling away. The rapid succession of dhammas, such as visible object,
leads to the experience or impression of shape and form and to the idea of people and
things. A simile can be used to explain this: when we take a torch that we swing
around we notice a circle of light. In fact what we take for a circle of light consists of
many moments, but it seems to be a continuous whole. There is a reality that can be
seen and panna begins to understand that what is seen cannot be any one at all. Only
memory and thinking condition the idea of someone or something.
The term sahkhara nimitta, the sign of conditioned dhammas 25 pertains to the fact
that each of the five khandhas which arise and fall away has a nimitta: rupa-
nimitta, vedana-nimitta (feeling), sanna-nimitta (remembrance), sahkhara-nimitta (the
"Dispeller of Delusion," Commentary to the Book of Analysis, Classification of the Truths, 101.
25 The "Path of Discrimination" ("Patisambhidhamagga"), I, 438 speaks about seeing as terror the
signs of each of the five khandhas, whereas nibbana is animitta, without sign. Sahkhara nimitta also
occurs in the Visuddhimagga XXI, 38.
26 All conditioned dhammas, sahkhara dhammas, can be classified as five different khandhas or
aggregates. One khandha is riipa, and four are nama.
other fifty cetasikas apart from feeling and sanna) and vinnana-nimitta (citta).
Since nibbana does not arise and fall away it is without nimitta, it is animitta.
Conditioned dhamma falls away but the nimitta remains. It is a sign or nimitta of the
reality that arises and falls away, but we do not realize the arising and falling away.
We mislead ourselves, taking for permanent what is impermanent. We take for self
what is beyond control. There is no need to think all the time: "it is a nimitta" or, "the
reality has fallen away". Characteristics are appearing and they can be investigated.
Sahkhara nimitta denotes a nimitta of a reality appearing right now. The reality and
its nimitta can be compared to a sound and its echo. We should remember what
Acharn said: "The reality and the nimitta of it appear like sound and its echo, who
knows which is which? Instead of finding out whether nimitta is a paramattha
dhamma, know that it is now. No one can pinpoint a moment of experiencing an ob-
ject or the object itself."
We learn to be aware of characteristics of dhammas that appear but knowing about
nimitta makes it clearer that dhammas fall away so fast. It helps to understand their
nature of anatta, they are beyond control. What has arisen is gone already before we
realize it. "Once upon a time" can be seen as an extremely short moment ago. We can
remember what Acharn said long ago: "We have dear people, people who are close to
us, but dhamma arises and then falls away. Seeing has fallen away and there is noth-
ing left. Thinking and all dhammas fall away completely. This is not different from
the moment a dear person dies. We are thinking about a dear person but thinking falls
The colour that appears through the eyes is the nimitta, the sign referring to the visi-
ble object that is accompanied by the four Great Elements of Earth (solidity), Water
(cohesion), Fire (temperature) and Wind (motion). There is a great variety of the four
Great Elements, and since they have different degrees of hardness, softness, heat or
cold, it is a condition for the nimittas to be varied. Whenever visible object appears or
seeing appears, there is the sign of the rapidly arising and falling away of realities. A
single moment of seeing cannot be experienced.
The succession of the arising and falling away of visible object leads to an idea of
continuity, the perceiving of shape and form. Acharn explained: " Memory just marks
and forms up the idea of a particular shape and form of this or that person. It is all
that can be seen. Close your eyes and there is no more that which can be seen.
...Without reality there is no nimitta but the arising and falling away is so rapid that it
cannot be directly experienced."
In this context sahkhara refers to sankharakkhandha. The term sahkhara dhammas refers to all
conditioned dhammas, to all khandhas. Sankharakkhandha refers to one khandha, the khandha of
Because of wrong remembrance of self, atta-sanna, the nimitta is taken for some-
thing. Concepts are thought of because of different nimittas. Sarah also gave some
more explanations: "Thinking has an idea of shape and form and that leads to the idea
of eyebrows, people and things. Without experiencing visible object many times
there could not be the sign of visible object and without that sign there could not be
thinking about the outward appearance and details of things. One thinks of concepts
of people and things on account of what is seen."
When we have no understanding there are just concepts about realities as permanent
phenomena which don't arise and fall away instantly. When we have more under-
standing of nimitta, we see that whatever we experience arises for a moment and is
then completely gone. We cannot hold on to it. Acharn said:
"That is life. No matter how happy or unhappy we are, all these moments are gone.
What we take for so very important in life is gone. Such moments are just objects of
ignorance and attachment. What is the use of experiencing all these realities at this
moment? Understanding this is the beginning of seeing dukkha, which is the arising
and falling away of realities. Each conditioned reality is dukkha. It just arises and
falls away and it cannot be controlled. It is time to eat, to sleep, to move, to think, but
we have an idea that 'I will do this'. We can come to understand the panna of the
Buddha and his compassion to teach, to let others understand whatever appears."
At the end of my stay in Thailand a short visit to Chiengmai was planned and I want-
ed to join this. We took the plane and stayed one night, but there were two full days
of Dhamma discussions. I had been to Chiengmai before and, thus, it was a happy
meeting again with old friends. We had lunch in the cultural center where we were
offered traditional Northern dishes, like bamboo filled with pork and a great variety
of vegetables. The sessions were in an auditorium in the hotel where we stayed over-
night. I had to climb a podium with very steep steps, but people assisted me from all
Acharn explained about nimitta that when seeing, there is clinging to the nimitta as
something or somebody. The impingement of visible object on the eyesense is a con-
dition for seeing that arises and falls away very rapidly. Because of the arising and
falling away again and again a nimitta or sign of continuity appears. She said: "There
is a nimitta of different shapes and forms. Sanna remembers them wrongly as some-
thing that stays. There is wrong remembrance of self, atta-sanna. Concepts are known
because of different nimittas. Because of a concept we know what something is. Be-
cause of thinking of nimitta we know when and where there is food. If there is no re-
ality, there is no nimitta and no shape and form."
We have to know the extent of our understanding and if we try to find out more than
we can understand, we are clinging again. When understanding develops we can let
go of clinging very gradually. We have possessions in our house but do we have them
now? We are only thinking of them. When we return home, they may not be there
anymore. We should develop understanding with courage and cheerfulness. People
mostly follow their own ideas and do not study the teachings with respect. Therefore,
the teachings will dwindle and disappear.
The last afternoon, before our departure, one of our friends sang a song in honour of
Acharn. She praised her wisdom in explaining the Dhamma to all of us. The song
was very charming with a melody in the Northern style of music. When we were at
the airport on our way back we waited in the VIP room where we had a Dhamma dis-
cussion for another hour. People showed a great interest and had many questions.
Acharn reminded us again of the Buddha's last words, saying that we should not be
neglectful, also with regard to listening to the Dhamma. There are dhammas all the
time but we do not know that they are dhammas. Their different characteristics
should be investigated.
The Buddha taught the four noble Truths: the Truth of dukkha, the Truth of the origin
of dukkha, the Truth of the cessation of dukkha and the Truth of the Path leading to
the cessation of dukkha.
Dukkha is the arising and falling away of dhammas. What arises and falls away is not
worth clinging to, it is unsatisfactory. The origin or cause of dukkha is craving, be-
cause of craving we have to reborn and that means the arising and falling away of
nama and rupa again and again. The cessation of dukkha is nibbana and the Path
leading thereto is the eightfold Path.
Parma has to be developed on and on for aeons before the four noble Truths can be
penetrated. The Buddha showed in his first sermon 28 that there are three phases in
the development of understanding and these pertain to each of the four noble Truths.
There are three "rounds" or inter-twining phases of the understanding of the four no-
ble Truths. They are: understanding of the truth, sacca nana, knowledge of the task to
be performed, kicca nana, which is the development of understanding of realities, and
knowledge of the task that has been done, kata nana, which is the direct realization of
Acharn referred very often to these three "rounds" or phases and explained that with-
out the first phase, sacca nana, the firm understanding of what the four noble Truths
are, there cannot be the second phase, kicca nana, the performing of the task, that is,
satipatthana, nor the third phase, kata nana, the fruit of the practice, that is, the pene-
tration of the true nature of realities.
Kindred Sayings, V, 420. The Foundation of the Kingdom of the Norm.
With regard to the first phase, she said that there should be the firm intellectual un-
derstanding of the first noble Truth, and that means understanding that there is
dhamma at this moment, that everything that appears is dhamma. Acharn said that it
must be the firm understanding that seeing arises and falls away, and that we should
not be ignorant of seeing. All dhammas should be known, otherwise the idea of self
cannot be eradicated. She said:
"Who sees? When anatta is understood it is the beginning of the right Path." When
we listen to the Dhamma and consider what we hear the intellectual understanding of
realities, that is, the first phase, sacca nana, gradually develops and then it can condi-
tion the arising of satipatthana. This means that the second phase, knowledge of the
task, kicca nana, begins to develop. The practice, patipatti, is actually knowledge of
the task that has to be performed.
The second noble Truth is craving or attachment. Craving or clinging in daily life
should be understood. The clinging to self has been deeply accumulated and we
should consider this more. We cling to satipatthana and this can induce wrong prac-
tice. We should learn at what moment this occurs, the test is always at this moment.
Understanding of what appears at the present moment through one of the six door-
ways leads eventually to the abandonment of craving. Seeing, for example appears
now and it can be known as only a conditioned dhamma, no self who sees. However,
attachment takes us away from the present object, time and again, so that we are for-
getful of seeing that appears now. Also attachment can be known as a dhamma.
The ceasing of dukkha, namely nibbana, is the third noble Truth. Also with regard to
the third noble Truth there are three phases: understanding what the ceasing of duk-
kha is, sacca nana. Panna can come to see the danger and disadvantage of the arising
and falling away of conditioned dhammas and it will see the unconditioned dhamma
that does not arise and fall away as freedom from dukkha. We should have the firm
understanding that detachment and the eradication of defilements is the goal. We
should be convinced that it is possible to attain this goal only if we follow the right
Path. Understanding of the task in order to reach this goal is kicca nana. At the mo-
ment of enlightenment nibbana is experienced and defilements are eradicated. Under-
standing of the task which has been performed, the realization of nibbana, is kata
The way leading to the ceasing of dukkha, namely the eightfold Path, is the fourth
noble Truth. Also with regard to the fourth noble Truth there are three phases or
rounds. The first round is understanding what the development of this Path is, sacca
nana. This is not theoretical understanding, but it pertains to the development of un-
derstanding of the dhamma appearing at this moment. Nama and rupa, paramattha
dhammas, are the objects of which understanding should be developed. These are dif-
ferent from concepts, from the image of a 'whole' of a person, of the body, of a thing.
When there is firm understanding of what the Path is, we shall not deviate from it.
The teaching of the three phases shows us that the development of panna is bound to
be an age-long process. We need to develop it with courage and patience.
Acharn was invited to speak at the "World Fellowship of Buddhists". I went to their
center with Jonothan. It was a long taxi drive because at that time several streets were
blocked during anti-government demonstrations. We had to walk through a park to
reach the place.
"Reality is very daily. It should be studied, otherwise we never know the truth. Does
anything belong to you? Even seeing does not belong to you. Right understanding,
when it arises, begins to see realities as no being. Seeing is seeing. At the moment of
hearing there is no seeing. Is sound real? It has its own characteristic. Nobody can
change the characteristics of realities. When one has not heard the Dhamma one
thinks: 'I see a person'. Visible object is a reality that is seen and after that one thinks
of shape and form because of sanna. Each moment is conditioned. Understanding is
Several people showed a real interest and asked questions. We discussed the fact that
it is not by chance that someone comes to a particular place at a particular time to lis-
ten to the Dhamma. It must be because there was an interest in the past and this has
been accumulated so that there are conditions to listen again, to consider again. In
this way understanding can grow.
The Buddha taught anatta all the time. Anatta of what? Of realities or dhammas. We
should not think so much about names and terms, but understand the reality repre-
sented by a name. We may stare at the texts but it may happen that the meaning es-
capes us. Then we may go all the wrong way, and this is very dangerous.
When reading suttas it may seem that the Buddha spoke about impermanence of con-
cepts, such as persons or possessions, but this was the method of teaching to certain
people who needed first conventional truth until they were ready to accept ultimate
truth (paramattha sacca). So, he often spoke about people in different situations.
When reading about conventional truth we can consider the deeper meaning, the truth
When people had deep sorrow about the loss of dear ones, they needed at first a gen-
tle approach by way of situations and persons. Not everybody is ready to accept the
truth that each reality falls away very rapidly, never to come back, and that there is
nothing left. When we read in the suttas about death we can be reminded of momen-
tary death. At each moment dhammas arise and then fall away never to return. If we
believe that people stay or that possessions are there all the time, we live in a dream.
We read in the "Sutta Nipata", the Group of Discourses, the Chapter of Eights, IV,
Old Age, vs. 804-813 29 :
" Truly this life is short; one dies less than one hundred years old. Even if any-
one lives beyond (one hundred years), then he dies because of old age.
People grieve for their cherished things, for no possessions are permanent. See-
ing that this separation truly exists, one should not live the household life.
Whatever a man thinks of as 'mine', that too disappears with his death.
Knowing thus indeed, a wise man, one of my followers, would not incline to
Just as a man, awakened, does not see whatever he met with in a dream, even
so one does not see beloved people when they are dead and gone.
Those people are seen and heard of, whose name is 'so and so'. When he has
departed, only a person's name will remain to be pronounced. Those who are
greedy for cherished things do not abandon grief, lamentation and avarice.
Therefore the sages, seeing security, have wandered forth, abandoning posses-
sions. Of a bhikkhu who lives in a withdrawn manner, resorting to a secluded
residence, of him they say it is agreeable that he should not show himself in
Not being dependent upon anything, a sage holds nothing as being pleasant or
unpleasant. Lamentation and avarice do not cling to him, as water does not
cling to a (lotus)-leaf.
Just as a drop of water does not cling to a lotus (-leaf), as water does not cling
to a lotus, so a sage does not cling to what is seen or heard or thought.
Therefore a purified one does not think that purity is by means of what is seen,
heard or thought, nor does he wish for purity by anything else. He is neither
empassioned nor dispassioned."
The commentary explains as to the words "a bhikkhu who lives in a withdrawn man-
ner", that he practises so that the citta becomes detached. The word bhikkhu refers to
the "excellent worldling" (kalyana putthujana) or the "trainer" (sekha puggala, the
ariyan who is not arahat). As to not showing himself in any dwelling, this means that
the wise person is free from dying, he does not have to be reborn.
Translated by K.R. Norman, PTS 1992.
The development of understanding of whatever reality appears now leads to detach-
ment. As we read: "A sage does not cling to what is seen or heard or thought". He
understands realities as they are.
The world with all the people is quite different from what we used to think, before we
heard the Dhamma. Even though we listened for a long time we have not penetrated
the truth of realities. We may repeat the word "There is no one there. Everything is
dhamma", but as we listen more to Acharn we come to realize how little we know.
This is beneficial, we have to continue to listen and consider the Dhamma with cour-
age and cheerfulness.
The world seems so large, but there is only one citta that experiences an object and
then falls away. Acharn reminded us many times that we are not together with anoth-
er person but with citta that experiences visible object and with citta that thinks, with
citta that experiences sound and with citta that thinks, with citta that smells odour and
with citta that thinks. We are alone in our own world. We think of another person but
there is only citta that thinks and then falls away.
Acharn said: "Parma can arise and it can accumulate. It is not a matter of 'doing
something' but of understanding. Everyone would like to have panna, but the mo-
ment of understanding is panna. When a reality appears panna can know the truth. Do
not try to have it. At this moment it can be known to what extent panna has devel-
We have to understand seeing and visible object. Time and again seeing arises and,
thus, we should not be forgetful of the present reality. Some people may find seeing
too ordinary to consider, not interesting enough. But it arises because of the coming
together of different factors. Visible object and eye-base are rupas that have not fallen
away yet. Rupa does not fall away as rapidly as nama. There are conditions for them
to associate exactly at the time they have not fallen away yet, so that kamma, a deed
committed in the past, can produce seeing. We always took seeing for granted, but
actually, it is amazing that seeing arises.
Seeing experiences visible object and only for that extremely short moment the world
is bright. When seeing has fallen away other cittas succeed seeing in the eye-door
process which, although they do not see, still experience visible object, but the world
is no longer bright. It seems that when we notice persons on account of what has been
seen, that the world is still bright, but this is not so. We are thinking and, although
our eyes are open, the world is dark. Thinking and other experiences are interspersed
with moments of seeing visible object very rapidly, and it seems that we are seeing
all the time. However, the moment of seeing is extremely short, it arises and falls
away. Thus, in reality only one short moment is bright and all other moments are
Because of our ignorance we take phenomena for permanent and self. It seems that
we see people and things and that whatever we see was there already for a long time
and that the world keeps on being bright.
In the beginning the momentary arising and falling away of realities, one at a time,
cannot be realized. Understanding has to be developed further so that impermanence
can be directly penetrated.
We read in the "Kindred Sayings" (IV, First Fifty, Ch 3, § 23, Helpful), that the Bud-
" 'I will show you a way, brethren, that is helpful for the uprooting of all con-
ceits. Do you listen to it. And what, brethren is that way?
Now what think you, brethren? Is the eye permanent or impermanent?'
'What is impermanent, is that weal or woe?'
'Now what is impermanent, woeful, by nature changeable, — is it fitting to re-
gard that as: This is mine. This am I. This is myself?'
'Surely not, lord.' "
The Buddha then explained the same about the other sense-doors, the objects experi-
enced through them, and the cittas that experience these objects. He said that the per-
son who realizes the truth attains arahatship and eradicates conceit.
The Buddha draws our attention to realities such as the senses, all the objects that can
be experienced and all the cittas that experience these objects. The Dhamma is very
precise. We do not even know what hearing is. It seems that we hear words that are
spoken, or that we hear dogs barking, but only sound is heard. We have to get used to
realities one at a time. It will take very long before the arising and falling away of
precisely this or that reality is directly known. In this sutta we see that the Buddha
mentions realities (dhammas) and not concepts, no collection of things. In this sutta
he truly teaches Abhidhamma, higher dhamma or dhamma in detail. Or in other
words, paramattha dhamma, dhamma in the highest sense. The Buddha asked after
each reality he mentioned whether it was permanent or impermanent. He wanted the
listeners to consider the truth with respect to each reality, one at a time, right at that
very moment. It is only dhamma at this moment that can be investigated.
A collection of things does not exist. Where is a person? Is it seeing, hearing or think-
ing? Only one citta arises at a time. Once we understand this, we know the difference
between reality and concept.
The Great Disciples at the Buddha's time could after only a few words realize the
truth of impermanence: the arising and falling away of seeing that appeared at that
moment, of visible object and of the other realities that appeared at that moment. But
we are beginners. Impermanence is not realized by thinking, it is by direct under-
standing and no words are needed. It is not thinking: "everything comes to an end".
Anybody could come to this conclusion.
We read and repeat: "all conditioned dhammas are impermanent", but these are only
words to us. What arises and falls away at this moment: a nama or a rupa? Citta with
understanding and mindfulness can take only one object at a time. Does seeing fall
away now, or visible object? This has to be known very precisely.
There are specific characteristics (visesa lakkhana) and general characteristics (sa-
manna lakkhana). The general characteristics are: impermanence, dukkha, anatta.
These general characteristics cannot be realized immediately. First it has to be known
precisely what seeing is as different from visible object. The specific characteristics
have to be known first. So long as we join realities together we take them for some
"thing", for a self, for permanent. Seeing is different from thinking, different from
attachment, these are different realities, each with their own specific characteristics.
That is the reason why Acharn always stressed: you have to know realities first as on-
ly a dhamma, and that at the present moment, now.
The Buddha taught for fortyfive years so that people would have conditions for direct
awareness and understanding. The Buddha had immeasurable compassion to teach so
that others could understand whatever reality appears at this moment. Without him
we would be in complete darkness, the darkness of ignorance. We would not know
what is real and what is not real. We would not know our attachment and all other
vices, we would not know how to develop kusala. We should study what the Buddha
taught with genuine respect. Every word he said is important.
We should begin to learn what dhamma is from this very moment. In the beginning
one does not know anything at all about dhamma, the reality that is appearing now.
When we listen we can begin to see that what arises and appears at this moment is
dhamma; we can understand it as dhamma. We can understand the characteristic of
dhamma instead of thinking about the "story" of dhamma.
We read in the "Path of Discrimination" (Patisambhidamagga, Treatise on Know-
ledge I, Ch 71, the Great Compassion) that Enlightened Ones when seeing all the
dangers and disadvantages of worldly life, have great compassion for beings. We
read at the end:
"Upon the Enlightened Ones, the Blessed Ones, who see thus, T have crossed
over and the world has not crossed over; I am liberated and the world is not
liberated; I am controlled and the world is uncontrolled; I am at peace and the
world is not at peace; I am comforted and the world is comfortless; I am extin-
guished and the world is unextinguished; I, having crossed over, can bring
across; I, being liberated, can liberate; I, being controlled, can teach control; I,
being at peace, can pacify; I, being comforted, can comfort; I, being extin-
guished, can teach extinguishment,' there descends the Great Compassion.
This is the Perfect Ones knowledge of the attainment of the Great Compas-
It was the Buddha's great compassion to teach in such a way that people who listened
could develop their own understanding.
Many conditions are necessary for right understanding to develop. Acharn often re-
minded us that there is not a self who is trying to develop panna, but that sankhara-
kkhandha is operating. Sahkharakkhandha (the khandha of formations) includes all
cetasikas apart from feeling and remembrance. All sobhana cetasikas (beautiful ceta-
sikas) are included such as sati, panna and other wholesome qualities. She explained
that the development of right understanding is understanding of whatever appears.
This is conditioned by listening and considering the Dhamma. She said: "Leave it to
sahkharakkhandha. They are working on and on, all by themselves." When we really
consider this we shall be less inclined to think that we have to "do" something special
in order to have more understanding.
All wholesome qualities, such as the "perfections" have to be developed together
with right understanding. Panna is very weak, it needs the support of all kinds of
kusala so that the 'other shore' can be reached. This shore is the shore of defilements
and the 'other shore' is enlightenment, when defilements are eradicated. We need
courage, viriya, so as not to become downhearted but continue on the right way of
development. We need dana, generosity, so that we are not self-centered all the time,
thinking of our own pleasure. We need determination (aditthana) to continue on and
on considering the reality appearing now, whatever difficult situations we have to
face, since we see the benefit of right understanding. We need truthfulness, sincerity:
to what extent is there panna and to what extent still ignorance. We do not want to be
deluded about the truth of realities and be blinded. We should not mistakenly believe
that we have understood what we are still ignorant of. With sincerity we have to de-
velop all kinds of kusala. We need patience, to listen and carefully consider each
word of the teachings. We see that many conditions are necessary for the develop-
ment of panna.
Sarah spoke about difficulties many people face with anxiety and depression. She
said: "We learn that these are kinds of aversion, not liking, not accepting life now as
it is. No one likes such states because of the unpleasant feelings, but no one minds
about the attachment and pleasant feelings which lead to the anxieties and depres-
sions. So often, we find ourselves lost in the stories about past and future and just
forget that now, the realities are simply the seeing of what is visual, the hearing of
sounds and thinking about such experiences. The ideas thought about in our imagina-
tion are not real. This is why we look at the actual realities more and more."
This is true, the more we listen, the more we come to see the importance of under-
standing the present dhamma. In our daily life we are absorbed in many different
events that take place, or in what we read in the newspaper. At the hotel in the small
pool that I use for my early morning swim, a huge snake was found, just ten minutes
before I would enter the pool. On account of this it is natural that we think of many
stories of what could have happened. At this time it was Chinese New Year, the Year
of the Horse. Children were dressed and performed a dance mimicking a lion's
movement. One could throw money inside his wide-open mouth and then the lion
would bow and thank the giver. Only visible object is seen, but on account of visible
object we go on thinking for a long time. Gradually we can come to see the differ-
ence between thinking of stories, of concepts and the experience of seeing and other
At our last session in the "Foundation" Acharn stressed all the time: not the words are
important, but what is understood right now at the present moment. What about see-
ing now? We do not need any words, we have to attend to its characterisic when it
appears now. The present moment cannot be emphasized enough. It is very helpful
that Acharn stressed the difference between textbook knowledge and understanding
without naming realities, by attending to their characters tics. We are likely to call
seeing vipaka (result of kamma) and clinging to visible object akusala but we can
learn that their characteristics are different when they appear. Gradually we can learn
that seeing is quite different from attachment, without calling them by name.
Acharn spoke about "seeing now" every day. Once we have some understanding of it
as only a conditioned dhamma we will come to know what a reality is as different
from a concept. Acharn often explained that what has fallen away never comes back
and that this is the meaning of dukkha: the reality that just appears and disappears
and never comes back. What was experienced in the morning is not now and what
will be experienced in the evening is not now. Each moment is past and there is just
the idea of self, of "I", all the time. What from head to toe could be "I"?
During our sessions clinging to the "self " became more apparent, even when we do
not think expressively: "it is mine". We may believe that hardness is known as only
hardness, but when it appears at some location in the body it shows that we cannot let
go of the idea of body, it is always "somewhere in my body". Seeing appears but
when it appears at some location, namely at the eye-base, there is still an idea of my
eye. It takes a long time before there is detachment from the idea of "self or "mine".
Direct understanding of a dhamma is without words. Even when we talk about ulti-
mate realities we are thinking of concepts, concepts of realities. During our discus-
sions this became clearer.
Usually there is no understanding, and, thus, we live in a dream. Now, when there is
not direct understanding and awareness, we are dreaming. Even when we are talking
about ultimate realities, we are dreaming. But when direct understanding arises we
are not merely thinking, we are awake just for one moment. It takes a long time to re-
alize the true nature of realities. Acharn explained with endless patience that "there is
no one there". To remind me of the truth she said: "Where is Lodewijk? He is no
more, but also when he was still alive there was no Lodewijk. No Lodewijk, no Ni-
na". Her remark helped me to see that the Dhamma has to be applied in daily life, at
this moment. She often asked whether seeing, hearing or thinking is a person. It is not
a person, because each moment is gone completely. It is hard to accept, but it all de-
pends on panna: is it sufficiently developed? We need more listening and considering
so that panna can grow. In theory we know that person is a concept, not a reality. But
right now we cling to concepts, to persons, as if they are real. It is beneficial to know
what one does not know yet. I am very grateful to Acharn that she untiringly, with
great compassion, explained that this moment is dhamma, not "us". She said "this
moment", because only what is present can be investigated, it arises only once and
immediately it is past: "once upon a time".